Daijiworld Media Network – Udupi (EP)
Udupi, Aug 15: A folk musician, a traditional doctor, a freedom fighter who played an important role towards Indian independence, Gopala Rao Hiriadka, at 99 years, has enthusiasm that is tough for any youth to beat. Credited for starting Yakshagana troupe in Hiriadka, Rao beats the drum even today for Navaratri, while locals in big numbers gather to watch him.
Born in Hiriadka in 1919 to farmer couple Sheshagiri Rao and Laxmibai, he is one among 6 children. He completed his education at aided school near Madanantheswari and board higher elementary school, Hiriadka. He had to stop his education after seventh standard. As his family was traditionally into farming, he was naturally inclined towards agriculture.
Memories of freedom struggle
Rao in spite of his age has vivid memories of participating in the freedom struggle. “Everyone in our family actively participated in the freedom movement, especially my uncles Narayana Rao and Ramaraya Mallya. As we were all into the freedom movement, our houses as well as our hands were empty. We had sacrificed everything, and my uncle had to look after our basic expenses,” he recalls.
“Toddy used to be sold in about eight villages from Uppoor. British were charging cess on it. Therefore, we used to sing in Tulu and protest. Ours was a group of eight people including Vishwanath Hegde, Vadiraj Hegde, Barber Deja, Sheena Sherigar, Raghunath Rao etc. We had done a lot of work during Quit India movement in 1942. Vishwanath Hegde, son of local Patel was our captain. We joined together and broke the bridge at Kondadi to prevent British military from coming here. We pulled out telegram pole and took it elsewhere. We cut trees in several places and blocked roads so that they could not proceed by road. We struggled day and night for it. An inspector called Hurthado immediately arrived then,” he recollects.
“I did not go to jail though my friends went to jail and had to remain there for six months. If I was jailed, my experience would have been different,” he adds.
Memories of Mahatma Gandhi visiting Udupi
“Vaikunta Baliga had taken up the responsibility of welcoming Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to the coastal district in 1934. Works were going on in Udupi and Mangaluru under his supervision. As we heard that Gandhi was coming, we left houses with our groups in the morning. It was sunny when we reached Udupi. Gandhi came in a Jeep. Narayana Khille and Vaikunta Baliga were also there. They went and sat on a stone at Bhujanga Park, Ajjarakad, Udupi. A small pendal was erected there. Gandhi addressed thousands of people. Naryana Khille translated what he said. The ground was not enough for a sea of people who had gathered there,” Rao says.
“As I am a Yakshagana artiste, I had no information regarding the murder of Gandhi. We were engrossed in Yakshagana on the day he was murdered. We stopped the play half way when we received the news. Yakshagana play scheduled for next day was cancelled as a mark of respect,” he recalls.
Achievements in Yakshagana
Rao learnt Yakshagana under K Shivaram Karanth and was first to start Yakshagana troupe in Hiriadka. Martha Bush Aschan, an American, had come to Udupi in 1969 to learn Yakshagana. Gopala Rao took the responsibility of teaching Yakshagana to her as desired by Shivaram Karanth.
Gopala Rao has received several felicitations and awards. Karnataka government awarded him Rajyotsava award in 1972. Rajya Sangeetha Academy and Yakshagana Kala Tapaswi among them are worth remembering.
Rao married Meenakshi and the couple is blessed with two sons Ramamurthy and Ammani. Rao does Yoga exercises to keep his body in good shape even at this ripe age. He has his own daily routine. His experiences in Yakshagana can be an unending story.
His son Ramamurthy has retired from his Syndicate Bank job. He attends to the needs of his father and teaches Yakshagana to children. Ramamurthy's wife Seethalaxmi looks after her father-in-law. Their daughter Shruthi Rao has achieved excellence in Yakshagana art. She started learning Yakshagana at a young age and dances to the drum beats played by her grandfather Gopala Rao.
“I love beating Maddale (drum). It is the source of my food and it has given me long life. It has that characteristic in it, which engrosses one and makes them grow,” he says.
Independence Day in 1947
“We had festive atmosphere the night when independence was announced. All of us had joined and walked on the road shouting amid celebrations,” he says.
“There were handlooms of two threads those days. An organization called Gandhi Pratistana was started. They were permitted to prepare threads there. We used to prepare between eight to ten rolls of thread. We also used to wear clothes made of such thread. It was our small contribution to the country back then,” he adds.
“My message to the future generation is that a man should live as a man. We have intelligence and knowledge, more than animals. Even a crow shares its food. We too should live with clear thoughts and actions. We should avoid pretensions in our lives. Those are detrimental to us. Our progress is possible only then,” he advises.